When choosing a new destination to kick-start a flagging career, players' homelands are often a popular option. In the case with Bolivian striker Marcelo Moreno, he chose his second homeland, having recently returned to Brazilian football by signing on the dotted line for Gremio.
After spending four unsettled seasons in Europe, across three different countries, the 24-year-old sharpshooter just wanted to play regular football again. Getting a chance to do that in front of Gremio’s fervent fans was an added bonus.
“I made the right decision,” Moreno told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “I had offers from some of the biggest clubs in Brazil, but my desire to come here won out,” said the centre-forward.
The early signs are certainly good with the player having already netted three times this year, including once against arch-rivals Internacional – a sure way to win over the Tricolor faithful. “I’ve always admired how the Gremio fans celebrate, and I was also influenced by the plans the club had. All of that was a big motivation and I’m very happy.”
Marcelo Moreno was born in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz to a Brazilian father and a Bolivian mother. His father, Mauro Martins, was himself a professional footballer, but had already hung up his boots by the time his son was born.
Even so, Mauro had an obvious influence on his son's choice of profession, as Marcelo himself confirmed. “More than anyone, he motivated me to become a footballer. I was constantly aware that I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps.”
He would also retrace Mauro's path by heading east across the border. At just 17 he bade farewell to hometown side Oriente Petrolero for Vitoria in the Brazilian state of Salvador, where his father’s help would be fundamental.
I’m feeling great here, very much at ease. I feel like I’m at home.
“I was on my own in Salvador for about four months until my father arrived. At the time I didn’t speak Portuguese well and he had to help me a lot,” said the front-man, who played alongside the likes of Hulk and David Luiz in that Vitoria side.
After patiently establishing himself in Salvador, things began to move quickly. His contribution to Vitoria’s state titles of 2005 and 2007 led to his representing Brazil at U-18 and U-20 level, though not in official games. In 2007 he secured a move to Cruzeiro and was the club’s top scorer in the 2008 Copa Libertadores. It was enough to convince Shakhtar Donetsk to come in for him, and by the end of that year he was on the books of the Ukrainian giants.
On the road again
When asked by FIFA.com whether it was harder to move to a neighbouring country on your own as a teenager, or up sticks for eastern Europe as an established professional, Moreno replied instantly: “Yes it was very tough initially in Brazil, but nothing compared to the difficulty of going from here to Ukraine. The language, food, the culture – they were all so different. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to when I first arrived.”
Even though Shakhtar were at the time building their team around a nucleus of Brazilians, Moreno was unable to carve himself a niche. As a consequence he was loaned out to Germany’s Werder Bremen in 2009, but the move did little to improve his situation. “Unfortunately, I never got a run of games there,” he lamented.
The following year the striker was packing his bags again, this time to try his luck in the English Premier League on loan with Wigan Athletic. Though he would enjoy marginally more playing time under Roberto Martinez, on his return to Shakhtar, Moreno found the Brazilian Luiz Adriano to be an unmovable presence in the frontline. It was precisely at this time that Gremio appeared on the horizon.
Looking to the future
Back in Brazil, Moreno is now much closer to his homeland, which should make representing the Bolivian national team easier. La Verde have just one point after four games of the qualifying campaign for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, but the striker is adamant they must not give up hope, not least because of the parity evident between the region’s sides at last year’s Copa America.
“Peru and Venezuela performed well there, and we’re coming on as well too,” he said. "The only way for us to pick up the requisite number of points is to start winning away from home too, and not only go for it when we’re at altitude [in Bolivia].”
To that end, Moreno is anxious to play his part, and his arrival at Gremio has given him the opportunity to remind everyone of just what he can do. The weight of expectation on him in Porto Alegre is eased somewhat by having the battle-hardened Kleber up front with him, forming a partnership in which the club has put a lot of faith.
“He is a great player,” Moreno said of his team-mate. “I think the fans are right to believe in us. If we keep working like we have done so far and are able to gel, then they will definitely see the fruits of our labour in due course."
Moreno exudes a relaxed confidence, and being back on familiar territory seems to be the cause.. “I’m feeling great here, very much at ease,” he replied. “I feel like I’m at home.”